Senior Leads Arbor Prep to New Heights

March 19, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep finished its fifth season of high school girls basketball Saturday. Nastassja Chambers finished her fourth season on the varsity.

That makes her the first star in the program’s young history – and one that will be remembered for years to come thanks to the Class C championship she helped the Gators earn in her final high school game.

Chambers scored 14 points to go with three assists and three steals, and 10 of those points came as Arbor Prep put Traverse City St. Francis nearly out of contention during the first half on the way to a 53-37 title game win at the Breslin Center. 

Arbor Prep opened for the 2011-12 school year, and was first eligible for MHSAA Tournament play in 2012-13. Chambers has been part of the team for all of its postseason games, including two straight trips to Finals weekend, and for a combined run of 86 wins and only 15 losses.

“She’s someone to look up to, because no matter how much pain or how tired she is, she works hard,” Arbor Prep junior Adrienne Anderson said. “And that’s what she pushes us to do. And because she pushes herself, she’s in the position she’s in today. It’s an example that we want to follow.”

Arbor Prep (25-2) finished its final opponent this season the way it’s taken on a schedule loaded with top Class A and B programs all winter. 

The top-ranked Gators jumped out to a 9-0 lead, and after allowing the Gladiators to get back within three by the end of the first quarter, took off again to carry a 25-18 lead into halftime.

“We knew we had to come after them. We’re normally the team that always gets the lead, so we knew if we came out hard we could maintain the lead, and that would have them on their toes,” Chambers said. “And we knew once they called that timeout (with Arbor Prep up 4-0), we knew we had gotten in their heads."

The teams played almost evenly during the third quarter, with Arbor Prep taking a nine-point lead into the fourth – where the Gators turned on the jets again and changed up defenses a few times as they pushed the lead to as large as 18.

Arbor Prep took advantage of 29 St. Francis turnovers, scoring 33 points off takeaways, and had 16 fastbreak points to the Gladiators’ zero.

“I was worried early in the game, but I thought we’d adjust. They never let us. We never got in a rhythm. We never got in a routine,” St. Francis coach Keith Haske said. “Obviously that’s the best team we’ve seen this year. We got them a few times on the press, but obviously not enough to make a difference.

“Just watching them against Ithaca (in the Semifinal), they are just a little bit quicker than what we’re used to seeing. They’ve got more quick kids than I ever want to see in my life again. Usually when they have one or two quick kids, it’s OK. They’d take out three more, and three more came in.” 

Junior Cydney Williams added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Arbor Prep, which spread the scoring among seven players – with Chambers the only senior. Her contributions were not lost on the Gators once the championship ride was done. The 5-foot-8 guard will continue her career next season at Wayne State University and averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game heading into the week.

“These last two games she led us in scoring, but previous games in the state tournament she didn’t always lead us in scoring. She’s grown as a player, understanding you don’t have to lead us in scoring to be a good player, and I think that’s the biggest thing she got out of this season,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said.

“She’s’ always helped push us to our greatest potential, and when we’re down she helps pick us all back up,” Williams added. “She’ll always be there with a smile to help you move along.”

St. Francis, which played in its first MHSAA championship game and suffered its first loss since the second game of the season, also will say good-bye to only two seniors who played significant minutes Saturday – although they were the leading scorers.

Forward Annie Lyman had 15 points and center Lauren McDonnell had 10 points and six rebounds. Junior forward Juliana Phillips, a standout in the Semifinal, added nine points and 10 rebounds.

The Gladiators finished 26-2 and entered the postseason tied for No. 3 in The Associated Press' rankings.

“I’m just so proud of our team and what we accomplished this year together,” Phillips said. “We just love each other a lot. … This moment is as far as you can make it in a season. We’re all pretty sad it’s over, but super proud of what we did.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Arbor Prep players celebrate the first MHSAA championship in their school’s history. (Middle) The Gators’ Ro’zhane Wells drives to the basket with a pair of St. Francis defenders moving to clog the lane.

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)